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How did the idea for this book come to you? What made you want to write about infidelity?
I wish I could say that I’m someone who outlines and has the whole story worked out before I start writing—it seems like it would be easier that way—but for me it always starts with the characters. I lived in New York City throughout my twenties, and my roommate and I would often walk along the Hudson River after work and invent identities for the people we passed. I do the same thing in airports and restaurants, and when I write, I feel like I start in much the same way.
Daphne came to me as a very particular woman. She is laser-focused, unwavering, and she has tightly controlled everything in her life. When I started writing about her, I wasn’t so much interested in infidelity, though that’s part of her story. I was interested in seeing how she’d fare if her carefully designed life unraveled, and in the course of writing about that, it really became a story about forgiveness. What does it take to forgive someone who’s hurt you and what does it take to reconcile your pain with your love for that person? I believe that in any relationship, whether it’s a marriage, a friendship, a family relationship, etc., you have to forgive each other over and over again, in ways big and small, to make it work. And you have to learn how to forgive yourself, too. That, to me, is what the story is really about.
Your protagonist and her husband are both doctors. Why did you choose this profession for them, and how does it reflect on their respective characters?
There are several reasons. Daphne is someone who thrives on specifics and formulas. She’s a fixer, but she also has a huge heart, and to me, that made her work as an internist a natural choice. Because she’s so ambitious, I thought it would be interesting to see how her relationship would fare if there was just a little bit of career competition between her and her husband, which is why I made Owen a doctor, too. And then when I decided to set the story in Durham, NC, it became a no-brainer. Durham is known as “the city of medicine” because of Duke Hospital. UNC is just a few miles away and also has a renowned medical center. I lived there for over a decade, and half the people I knew worked in medicine. At one point, I lived in a cul-de-sac with seven doctors for neighbors. Finally, I spent the first several years of my career working as a health reporter and was raised by a woman who read medical books for fun, so it’s a field that always appealed to me. I couldn’t have written about it otherwise and I called on several medical friends for advice about everything from how they take notes after seeing a patient to plausible ailments for my characters.
In your first book, HOW LUCKY YOU ARE, you wrote about the friendship between three women and how complicated it can be. In this novel, Daphne¹s sister Lucy is a pillar of support in some ways, though Daphne doesn¹t always agree with her. How is it different to write about sisters versus adult female friends?
I think that there are a lot of similarities. Female relationships are endlessly fascinating to me, in large part because my friendships with other women are such a big part of my life. In both books, the women make a lot of assumptions about each other based on the fact that they’ve made very different life choices—about their careers, their thoughts on marriage, etc. I think that the three women in HOW LUCKY were more apt to let each other’s poor behavior slide out of politeness, whereas Lucy and Daphne will call each other out because they have their family history. Also, in both cases, there’s a bit of posturing and putting a happy face on things, though I think that both books show in the end how essential it is to be wholly yourself with the people in your life. Authenticity is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days but to me, it’s the foundation of any good relationship. And for the women in these books, realizing that the unconditional love that they have for each other won’t fade when they reveal themselves is a big part of their stories.
So many people have wanted to know what happens to Daphne after Italy and the book¹s end. Do you have an idea of this you can share with readers, or are you saving her next steps for a sequel?
It has been so much fun to hear from readers about what they think happens to Daphne after the book. I’m going to hold my cards close to my chest on this in the event that I do write a sequel, but I will say that I think she settles back in Durham. I won’t reveal with whom.
You have two young children. When do you find the time to write, and what is your process like?
I’ve been self-employed for over fifteen years, long before I had kids, so that certainly gave me an edge once I became a mother in terms of having a flexible schedule and being used to holding myself accountable for getting my work done. There are lots and lots of things that I don’t do well, but I’m a really diligent person and I stick to a firm work schedule just like if I worked in a traditional office. If you’re going to write for a living, you need to approach it as seriously as you would any other job. There’s no waiting for inspiration to strike—you get yourself to your desk every day and do the work. It’s as simple as that. And when stuff comes up, as it inevitably does, I make up for it with early mornings, late nights, and weekends.
Becoming a novelist is a leap of faith because you typically spend years writing before you ever know whether you’ll even get a book contract. I remember sitting at my desk, writing my first book with my first daughter in a Baby Bjorn, and having lots of insecure moments when I’d wonder whether I’d ever be successful. But everyone starts the same way. I know novelists who write before they go to their traditional jobs at software companies and doctors’ offices. I know novelists who were stay-at-home parents and wrote when their kids were at school and swim team practice. I wish I could reveal that there’s more romance involved, or that I once had an epiphany that has since made the work a breeze, but at the end of the day, it really just comes down to putting the time in.